The programmes ... the sets ... the static ...
 ... the enjoyment ... the confiscations ...

Contents List Our Memories Radio & TV


    A Bit of History
Pop Music on Radio
Radio
Days
TV Times
   

A Bit of History

Radio

In 1951, when the first students arrived at the College, radio ('wireless') sets all used valves and were to be found in just about every home.  They were bulky, heavy and either operated from the mains supply or 2 external batteries; a High Tension (HT) dry battery and a re-chargeable accumulator which powered the valve filaments.  Several villages and towns in the more remote areas of Norfolk still had no electricity (and there were no gas models!), so battery sets were the only option - requiring regular trips to the local cycle shop for an accumulator re-charge.  The set occupied pride of place on the sideboard and was the main source of news and entertainment for the family.  There were such things as 'Portable' radios, but they were at least the footprint size of a modern day laptop computer and had a lid containing a directional 'frame' aerial.

Prices were steep - generally equivalent to an average week's wage - so the family set was a 'one off' purchase that was maintained carefully over a life of perhaps 40 years by the servicing departments of small independent radio shops that existed in every town.

The radios mostly took the form of a polished wooden cabinet, with a cloth loudspeaker grille and a circular or rectangular illuminated tuning dial that was calibrated in metres (wavelength) and was marked with the names of prominent stations; Hilversum, Moscow, Omsk and other places that were mostly meaningless to the listener.  Selectable Long (LF), Medium (MF) and Short (HF) wavebands were the norm.  It was quite exciting to a youngster to turn on the set, watch the dial illuminate and then, a minute or so later - as the valves 'warmed up' - hear a programme slowly rise to normal volume.  All sets other than 'portables' required external wire aerials, often strung to a pole in the garden, and connections to an 'earth' - a copper rod sunk into the ground outside the window.  That's why you often find a pair of terminals inset into an older house's living room window frame.

The spots on the dial that were used more than any other were BBC 'Light,' 'Third' and 'Home' Programmes - yesteryear's broad equivalents to the present Radios 2,  3 and 4.  The Light Programme's content comprised variety, comedy and light music shows (with very little 'pop' music), the Third mostly classical music, and the Home Service a more serious mix of in-depth news, documentaries and comment.  Ritual listening (in my household) included the evening news, The Archers, the Saturday football results and the Sunday lunchtime period that included Family Favourites, the Billy Cotton Band Show and a brace of comedy programmes selected from The Navy Lark, Educating Archie, Life With the Lyons, Hancock's Half Hour, Ray's a Laugh, Meet the Huggets and Round the Horne.

Although the transistor was invented in 1948, it was not until the late 1950s that transistor radios became available and affordable.  Powered from a single battery, often 9 volts, the sets were smaller, lightweight and more stylish, thanks to post-war advances in plastic moulding techniques.  Most of the sets dropped the Short waveband, but slowly began to include a VHF FM (Very High Frequency Frequency Modulation) band for high quality reception from local transmitters. 

Up until 1960, radios were built in Britain from British components and firms that flourished in those days included Mullard (valves/transistors), Plessey (capacitors), Erie (resistors) and Bulgin (plugs and sockets).  Then there began an increasing level of cheaper Japanese imports, led by the Sony Corporation.   By the 1970s, the valve was obsolete and many British companies were either defunct or existing only as a name to adorn sets made from imported components and sub-assemblies.  Sets became smaller, cheaper, more complex, and were used increasingly for FM reception; stereo becoming widely available from around 1972.  The old valve sets were consigned to the dustbin or the local dump in their millions, including models which these days are much sought after as collector's items.

Television

Television transmissions began in the late 1930s, delayed due to a long-running competition between John Logie Baird and Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd. (EMI).  Baird's 30-line system was crude, complex and unreliable  - due to its reliance on mechanical processes - but remained a credible invention because of the support Baird enjoyed from business leaders and the press.  The alternative system, developed by EMI, was largely electronic and was founded on the principles of scanning and interlacing that still exist today.  When the BBC began TV transmissions from Alexandra Palace in November 1936, the rival systems were used during alternate weeks.  The shortcomings of the Baird system soon became apparent and adoption of the EMI apparatus was made official in February 1937.

The cost of an early television set was equivalent to that of a small car, so there were few sales before transmissions ceased on the outbreak of Second World War.  Also, the VHF transmissions were of limited range and as the only transmitter was at Alexandra Palace, reception was only possible in parts of London and the northern Home Counties.

Post-war transmissions restarted in June 1946, but it took another 3 or 4 years for the television industry to develop to any significant degree.  New transmitters were established across the country and the set-makers began producing designs that reflected the rapid advances in electronics achieved during the War.  Sets used the same 405 line standard and VHF band that existed before the War and pictures were all black and white.  There was only one channel - the BBC - until the formation of the Independent Television Authority (ITA) in 1955, but even then it took another 4 years before Anglia Television was established.  The picture at right shows a 1960s Test Card - broadcast when programmes ceased for the day (which was early!).

Although prices dropped slowly through the 1950s, sets remained unaffordable for many people.  A typical late 50's model cost 110 Guineas (Guinea = 21/-); equivalent to 1500 today.  It was a marvellous treat for the deprived to be invited by friends or neighbours to watch special events, such as the Cup Final.  Screens were typically the size of a modern-day portable, so it was quite a crush. 

A third channel, BBC2, began in 1964, but used a 625 line standard and Ultra High Frequencies (UHF) that required a new set and aerial for programs to be displayed properly.  The complexity increased further some 3 years later when PAL colour transmissions were introduced - 15 years later than the USA which had adopted an inferior standard NTSC (referred to as Never The Same Colour!).   These later changes accelerated the demise of the valve and the growth of transistor technology.

Subsequent developments included the addition of 2 more terrestrial channels, the introduction of satellite and cable broadcasting and the benefit of stereo sound.  We are now in the era of digital broadcasting and higher definition pictures - but are the programmes themselves any better?

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Pop Music on Radio

As described earlier, the BBC Light programme was the only British source of modern music during the first decade of the College's history.  Anything that could be termed 'pop' was scant and it needed a careful study of the programme listings to identify occasions when Top Ten material might be heard.  The most likely instances were record request programmes (such as Family Favourites) and guest appearances on variety shows but, towards the end of the 50s, a major step forward, Skiffle Club (later Saturday Club), brought 2 hours of recorded and live music that was wholly for the younger generation.  Also, on Sunday afternoons there was a programme of current hit singles.  The most dire experiences were to be had listening to Alan Breeze singing (and slaughtering) the hits of the day on the Billy Cotton Band Show ('Wakey Waaaaaaakey!').

The most popular music station was Radio Luxembourg, which turned over its evening programming to record companies and a set of British DJs who played all the current hit singles.  Those who come to mind are Jack Jackson, Pete Murray and Jimmy Saville.  Unfortunately, because of night-time ionospheric conditions, the received signal was prone to a slow cycle of fading  that varied the volume from booming to inaudible and caused many a curse under the bedclothes.

The BBC was shaken from its complacency in 1964 by the Pirate radio stations that began broadcasting from outside the 3 mile limit (in international waters) - most notably Radio Caroline (right) - and soon captured the loyalty of a large chunk of the younger listening public.  Several of the later Radio 1 DJs started their careers on these ships, such as Peter D (now Johnny Walker - real name Peter Dingley), Tony Blackburn, Ed Stewart, Simon Dee, Kenny Everett and Dave Cash.

The success of the Pirates infuriated the BBC, the GPO, the Musicians' Union and eventually the Government, who made pirate broadcasting illegal by Act of Parliament in 1967.   The BBC was effectively forced by public opinion to introduce all-music station Radio 1 in September 1967, and to re-jig Light, Third and Home programmes to Radios 2, 3 and 4 respectively.  The Pirate stations, bereft of the support of a fickle public, struggled on against all kinds of sanctions, but went off the air in the spring of 1968.

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I can tell you quite a lot about Radio Caroline and the other 60's Pirate stations as my Uncle Eugene cooked the books - he was Caroline's financial controller!

The ship which you show  was the 'Mia Amigo' which was tethered off the Essex coast just outside the six mile limit (later extended considerably) which was Caroline South (Caroline North was off the north west coast near Manchester).  Eugene had a picture of the 'Mia Amigo' on his wall and he had planned to take me and my brother out to the ship when, alas, the Marine Offences Bill was rushed through and he had to get another job in rather a hurry!  He got wind it was coming and managed to offload his considerable shareholding at quite a profit before they became worthless, literally overnight!  At the time, he was a young fledgling accountant who only got the job there as my aunt was working as secretary for Rohan O'Reilly, the flamboyant owner.  When they were looking for a financial controller, she mentioned Eugene was looking for a job and the rest is history.  This 'break' give him loads of influential showbizzy contacts.

Eugene and my father have some amazing stories of the swashbuckling that went on then - the 'commando raids' on the Martello forts in the North Sea which comprised Radio Essex and the shenanigans in the Irish dockyard, owned by O'Reilly's father, where the outfitting of rival Radio London's ship was deliberately held up.  Radio London etc. were forced to be outfitted there as so few yards would do that sort of work at the time.  Eugene gave me loads of original (and only) tapes of the shows which would now be worth tons as collectors items ... except I used them as blanks for my tape recorder (see Radio Club).  I also got given loads of 'white label' demo disks which too have long gone - probably used as frisbees in the Gloucester House common room I expect!  Actually me and my mates were hugely disloyal and thought Caroline sucked, as the signal was poor and we thought that Radio London with Emperor Rosko was much groovier (a very fab sixties word!).

Oh fun days!

Ian Gomeche

Radio Caroline started broadcasting on 199 metres medium wave, from the ship MV Caroline, on Easter Sunday 1964.  The ship was a 750 ton, ex-Danish passenger ferry boat, that had been converted into a radio ship in Greenore, in Ireland, at a facility owned by Adhoogan O'Rahilly (Ronan O'Rahillys father); Ronan of course being one of the main directors of Radio Caroline.

While Caroline was being prepared, another ship the MV Mi Amigo, was anchored close by awaiting its turn. This was owned by Australian, Alan Crawford who in May 1964, would start up Radio Atlanta on 201 medium wave.  By mid-July 1964, Radio Atlanta had closed down, only to be renamed Caroline South, and the original Caroline sailed off to a point off the Isle of Man, to become Caroline North.

In December 1964, another well known pirate came on the scene from America, called Radio London and broadcasting on 266 medium wave.  From this time until the end in 1967, lots more pirates appeared from Sea Forts in the Thames Estuary, to Ship based stations like Radio Scotland, and [Radio England/Britain Radio] two stations here that broadcast from the same ship, MV Olga Patricia, on 227 and 355 metres medium wave. Well-known deejays of the time Tony Blackburn and Keith Skues, who started on Caroline, moved to Radio London, where more famous names were found like Kenny Everett, Ed Stewart, and John Peel.

The downfall of offshore radio came about by deals that went wrong, namely the Radio City saga.  Radio City broadcast from the Shivering Sands Sea Forts in the Thames Estuary and was owned by Reg Calvert.  He allowed a secondhand transmitter to be brought out, which was later discovered did not work.  This was owned by a Major Oliver Smedley, a small time investor with the now defunct Radio Atlanta.  As he got no payment he sent roughnecks to the fort and took over Radio City.   Reg Calvert the owner got angry, confronted Smedley and went to hit him with an ornament, but Smedley shot him in self-defence and was later acquitted of murder. 

This of course gave the then Government the excuse to outlaw offshore radio and the Marine Offences Act 1967 was rushed through, which saw the end of the pirates except Radio Caroline who struggled on until March 3rd 1968.  They had not paid their crew and tendering fees to a Dutch company, so both ships were towed away to Amsterdam.

Caroline did of course return in 1972, from the old Mi Amigo and lasted until March 20th, 1980 when the poor old ship sank off the Essex coast.  This was still not the end; she returned again on August 20th, 1983, from a new ship MV Ross Revenge, and lasted another decade until November 1990.  Today the ship sits in Kent being refurbished and Radio Caroline still broadcasts on 0199 via Sky satellite, and on the the Internet.

'John in Norwich'

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Radio Days

Transistor radios were naturally enough banned from York House, so we all had to have one.  It was the only way to keep up with the latest Sounds of the Sixties, man.  So, after lights out we listened to the tinny sound of Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres amplitude modulation (am), complete with hiss and static.  Pirate Radio, let alone Radio 1, hadn't even started.

I remember the thrill of hearing for the first time "Please Please Me" by a fab new group called the Beatles - and also "Come On," the Rolling Stones first hit, with its distinctive throbbing bass line (Al Dean and I would argue for weeks about the respective merits of the Beatles and the Stones - he was a Stones fan).  The signal would fade at vital moments, but would always return in time for us to catch the absurd adverts - "This is Horace Batchelor Use my Infra-Draw Method " (what on earth was that?) [see footnote - Ed.].  " Write to me at Keynsham - that's K...E...Y...N.."  Furthermore, the sound was muffled by the pillow as the transistor had to be hidden out of sight in case of sudden incursions by teachers.  After a while, someone was caught hiding the radio under a pillow after lights out.  We then had to develop a method of avoiding detection when a teacher burst into our heeb 8-dorm.  It went like this: roll out of bed on far side from teacher to shield the simultaneous removal of radio from under pillow. Then drop it surreptitiously onto foot and use foot to slide radio under bed.  Well it worked in theory....

The other problem was hiding the radio from daytime inspections.  Mike Betts showed me how to make a hidden compartment in the bottom of a box of washing powder into which the radio could be fitted.  Nobody seemed to notice that I had a permanently full box of powder, and never did any washing at school anyway!

Duncan Jones

I keep reading that radio sets were not allowed for many years at School.   I had an "accumulator" version in 1952, later converted to a battery, size about 12"x9"x4" ..... listening to Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres (Top Twenty).

Derek Buckingham

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TV Times

When Michael Doughty took over from Jack Hawkyard as York Housemaster, the Stalag-type regime relaxed slightly.  In '67 I was given an old TV set, which I very optimistically asked Doughty to let me bring to school.  I didn't expect a 'yes' because Muz himself had declared to a morning assembly that "some people thought TV the work of the Devil!" (i.e. he did).  To my amazement Doughty agreed, on condition we could only watch worthy programmes like the news and Panorama (although even this got relaxed - one evening the UVI were allowed to watch Top of the Pops!).

Doughty, whose nickname of the moment was "Duffty" had made us park the set next to his study door.  One evening I switched the set on to watch BBC News at 6pm, and as the valves warmed up we saw a trailer for a children's programme called "The Tufty Club."  A wag at the back of the audience called out to Duffty's study door "Your programme's on Sir!"  On cue, the door opened and a completely unaware Duffty walked out to a round of spontaneous applause and uncontrollable laughter!!!

Duncan Jones

In hut 16 there was an early TV projector which was sometimes used on a Saturday afternoon if the weather was bad and there was a rugby match on that Mr. Marney wanted to watch.  In November 2002, Paul Stochaj discovered that a similar model was being auctioned on EBay & sent along some photos (below).  He said "Looking at the images, it seems to be in better condition now than then!"

I remember that in 1954 the Tacolneston TV transmitter first opened and our assembly hall boasted an enormous projection TV set, the vision image being cast upon a huge screen, I guess about 2.7 metres wide by 2 metres high. The effect was like that of a small cinema. We were all ushered into the assembly hall shortly afterwards to watch Roger Bannister run the first 4 minute mile! Other than that, we were limited in our TV viewing to occasional broadcasts of 'Sportsview,' not a particularly enlightening experience as outside broadcasts or even videotaped events were almost unheard of back then. I much preferred the Saturday evening film shows using the school's only cine projector, which necessitated frequent reel changes. 'The Shape of Things to Come' I remember as one of the films we watched (made in 1936 I believe). Also, listening to the weekly broadcasts of 'Journey Into Space,' that is if someone could coax the very temperamental radiogram to work!

Maurice Jackson (1950s)

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Footnote: 

Horace Batchelor's 'Infra-Draw Method' was a system that (allegedly) predicted football results and  promised untold winnings for the millions who did the Pools each week.  The same boring advert (as related by Duncan) was trotted out nightly, but I never met (or heard of) anyone who paid the required sum for 'The Secret' - probably some sort of random-number generator.  Anyone know what it was?

Herb Atkins

 


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Wymondham College Remembered